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What would you do if your wife or your relative had postpartum depression after giving birth to her child? Would you try to help her by talking to her, or by taking her to a psychologist, or would you lock her in a house where she has no one to talk to and doesn’t get any professional help? Postpartum depression is a type of depression that occurs within three months following childbirth and symptoms can include delusions, hallucinations, marked illogical thought, thinking of suicide, and fear of hurting the baby (Dictionary of Psychology 551). Recent research shows that postpartum depression affects 10 percent of women in the months following the birth of a child (Depression Statistics: Women Fact Information).
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, –who’s also been through postpartum depression- (Gilman 366), is a fictional story about a woman, who actually has postpartum depression but, unfortunately, is misdiagnosed by her physician husband and brother (367). Therefore, because she is misdiagnosed and doesn’t actually have “temporary nervous depression” as her husband and brother says (367), the treatment that her husband and brother give her is a wrong treatment technique (leaving her alone, not letting her do anything but rest, not letting her talk about her condition, etc…), which at the end causes her to go totally insane, even though in the beginning she shows no signs of insanity. It is fundamental to understand two of the characters, the theme, and the setting of the story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, in order to achieve a deeper understanding and a greater enjoyment of the story and to figure out what the author is trying to indicate to the readers.
It would be tough to appreciate the story and the theme of the story if there was not enough information about the two most important characters: John (the husband) and the new mom who is going through postpartum depression. One of the main characters is John, the husband of the new mom. Even though he doesn’t appear that much in the story, his existence is important for the story since he is one of the people, actually, the person who is responsible for his wife’s insanity at the end. John is a physician, but even though he is a physician, he misdiagnoses his own wife’s psychological problem (Gilman 367).
Actually, it is normal for him to misdiagnose it, since he is not a psychologist.
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The new mom is a woman who goes through postpartum depression after giving birth to her, probably, first child. We can understand that she has postpartum depression when she says, “It is fortunate Mary is so good with the baby. Such a dear baby! And yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so nervous” (Gilman 369). In the beginning of the story, she is aware of her misdiagnosis, but she mentions her helplessness by saying “John is a physician, and perhaps…that is one reason I do not get well faster” (Gilman 367), and “If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression- a slight hysterical tendency- what is one to do?” (Gilman 367). She knows that her husband’s and her brother’s treatment way is wrong when she says, “…I must say what I feel and think in some way – it is such a relief!” (Gilman 372) therefore, she talks about her feelings by keeping a journal where she writes almost each day, since she has nothing else to do. Then, day by day, even though she is talking about her feelings somehow, her condition gets worse and she starts to see hallucinations and delusions which lead the reader to conclude that she’s slowly going insane. She gets obsessed with the wallpaper of their bedroom and says that she sees a woman in it who is trying to get out of it (Gilman 371, 375-378), which in my opinion, the woman in the wallpaper represents the new mom, who is trying to get out of the house and do something that, she wants to do. And at the end, we see that she totally goes insane when she rips all the wallpaper off and creeps on the floor telling her husband, “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” (Gilman 378). In my opinion, the new mom in this story represents the women’s helplessness and weakness towards men during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Another important aspect of the story that the reader should consider in order to understand it, is the theme: the main idea, the topic of the story. Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a well-known feminist at the times when she wrote the story. And the fact that she went through the same thing as the narrator of the story, makes Gilman’s story even more interesting to read (366). “The Yellow Wallpaper” points out men’s power over women, and the risks of women’s complete reliance and belief on a male understanding and analysis of their needs and problems, which generally have negative effects on women (366). This can be seen in the story, when John misdiagnoses his wife’s sickness, and causes her to suffer more and go insane at the end; and when at the same time, the new mom’s helplessness, and weakness towards her husband and his decisions since she does –and has to do- everything he tells her to do. She can’t fight back and tell him that she wants to see a psychologist to get a better treatment or she can’t tell him that she believes she would get better if she worked and exercised (Gilman 367). Moreover, even though she tells him that she wants to leave the room and the house, he refuses her wish, and instead, tells her that she seems like she is getting better, when actually she is not.
After getting an idea of the main characters and the theme of the story, we can say that the last important element of the story is the setting: the place and time where the story takes place. This story takes place in the upstairs room, which is covered with yellow wallpaper, of a big house which the new mom doesn’t really like (Gilman 368). I believe, it is summer of late 1800s, since she mentions that there is a nice garden “with long grape-covered arbors with seats under them” (Gilman 367). The setting is very important, especially the room with the yellow wallpaper, and as well as the fact that she didn’t like the house at the first sight. I believe, if she liked the house in the first place, I don’t think, she would make the yellow wallpaper such a big deal. But of course, still there is the fact that she is left alone which caused her obsession with the yellow wallpaper. On the other hand, I believe, if she was left alone in the nature, or in another place that she liked, where she could do whatever she wanted to do, the outcome would be much different. Maybe she wouldn’t go totally crazy. She would get better.
The explanations about the main characters, the theme and the setting of the story “The Yellow Wallpaper”, shows that they are important aspects of a story, in order to comprehend it and to get the author’s message in it. I believe, if the characters had different personalities, or if the author tried to point out something different than what she was trying to point out, or if the story took place in another year, for example in 2000, probably, the plot and the conclusion of the story would be much different than the current one. But still, I think, the author reaches her goal at the end of the story; telling woman to be strong and not to rely on men for everything. Moreover, she also makes it clear that isolation, and resting without doing anything is not a good treatment way for postpartum depression.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Sixth Ed. 366-378.
“Dictionary of Psychology” 3. Ed. 2001. 551
“Depression Statistics: Women Fact Information”